Monday, September 16, 2013

Peg Entwistle: A Tragic End

If I were to mention the name Peg Entwistle, it might not ring a bell. However, if you're familiar with Hollywood trivia, you'd remember her as the actress who committed suicide by leaping from the Hollywood sign.

It's a shame that twenty-four year old Peg Entwistle, a talented and accomplished stage actress, is most remembered for her death. An unsuccessful attempt at a film career led her to a tragic end that happened eighty-one years ago today.

Here's an account from

On the night of September [16], 1932, actress Peg Entwistle made her way up the steep slope of Mount Lee in Los Angeles to the site of the famous Hollywood sign (back then it spelled out "Hollywoodland"). She took off her coat and neatly folded it, put down her purse, and climbed up the maintenance ladder on the back of the 50-foot-high letter H. She stood atop it for a moment, looking over the lights of the glamorous city below, then leapt to her death.Peg probably died instantly, and her body was found [on September 18]by a hiker. 

Born in 1908 in Port Talbot, Wales, U.K., Millicent Lilian Entwistle, nicknamed Peg, saw more than her share of tragedy. She was just a child when her mother died unexpectedly, after which she moved with her father to New York City. A few years later, he was struck down by a hit-and-run car on Park Avenue and killed.

In her late teens, Peg began to pursue an acting career on the stage and was talented enough to win roles with the Boston repertory company and on Broadway in the renowned Theater Guild productions. (Bette Davis said that Peg Entwistle was her inspiration to pursue acting.) At age 19, she married actor Robert Keith, only to discover that he had been married previously and had a six-year-old son [Brian Keith, later of Family Affair fame]. They divorced.

Peg was able to find stage work in productions featuring such stars as Dorothy Gish and Laurette Taylor, but was already battling the demons of depression. Nevertheless, she set her sights on Hollywood and moved to Los Angles in 1932 in hopes of landing roles in motion pictures. 

At first she found work again on the stage, but then it seemed her destiny had really changed when RKO signed her to appear in the film Thirteen Women (click here to watch her appearance), starring Irene Dunne. When previews of the film received poor reviews, the studio re-edited it, and much of Peg's part was left on the editing floor. RKO subsequently dropped the options on her contract.  And on the night of September [16], 1932, after a bout of heavy drinking fueled by her depression and despair, 24-year-old Peg Entwistle told her uncle (with whom she was living) that she was going to meet some friends at a local drug store. Instead, she made her way to the Hollywood sign to meet her fate.

I recently learned that Peg's grave site is in Oak Hill Cemetery in Glendale, Ohio, a small town close to Cincinnati.  Over the summer, the kids and I took a field trip there to find it.
   This plot is shared with her father. For many years it was unmarked until a Facebook campaign raised funds for it.

   With my youngest at the grave site

                         The boys at Peg's family plot, probably wondering why their mother is so morbid

Although this song wasn't written for Peg Entwistle, I'm using it as a little tribute to her, compliments of Steely Dan:   

I've seen your picture 
Your name in lights above it 
This is your big debut 
It's like a dream come true 
And when you smile for the camera 
I know they're gonna love it 

I like your pin shot 
I keep it with your letter 
Done up in blueprint blue 
It sure looks good on you 
So won't you smile for the camera 
I know I'll love you better 

It will come back to you 
It will come back to you 
Then the shutter falls 
You see it all in 3-D 
It's your favorite foreign movie

Were you familiar with Peg Entwistle's story?  Thanks for visiting and have a great week!


Old Kitty said...

I have never heard of Peg Entwistle until now! Poor woman - so young!
:-( I loved the clip of her too - and am really intrigued with the story! 13 women that this Swami woman has cursed! Brilliant!!

Awww lovely to see you and your beautiful family too! Take care

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Kitty! Isn't that clip wonderful? Myrna Loy was excellent as that Swami woman!

Nas said...

I hadn't heard of her before. Interesting insight. Thanks for sharing.

William Kendall said...

I hadn't heard of her either, Maria. Thanks for sharing about her.

Shelly said...

How tragic! I was not familiar with her, and I'm so glad you spotlighted her today. I'll be thinking about her and the sad events of her life and death.

Maria McKenzie said...

@Nas: Thanks, Nas!

@William: You're welcome, William!

@Shelly: It is tragic:(. Wish she hadn't given up.

Intangible Hearts said...

How sad. Thanks for sharing your nostalgia for Hollywood and old movie actress glamour.

Hilary said...

I never heard of her either... So tragic... I feel so sad for her - what a life she led... I am glad you shared her story, and I am glad you got to "visit" her

Jennette Marie Powell said...

I meant to comment on this a few days ago when I read it - arrrgh, work! I hadn't heard of Peg Entwistle, but was wondering how her grave wound up in Cincinnati?

Maria McKenzie said...

@Eve: You're welcome!

@Hilary: Thanks for visiting, Hilary. This is a tragic story, one I found even more compelling with ties so close to my home:(.

@Jennette: I know you're busy. I'm not quite sure of all the details, but I believe Peg's stepmother's family are the Ohio folks.

The stepmother died in NY when Peg was young. She was then buried in Ohio in the family plot. Then when Peg's father was killed in NY, his ashes were sent to his wife's family (Peg's stepmother's family, that is) in Glendale and interred in the family gravesite, so then Peg ended up there with her dad.

Peg was living with her dad's brother (Uncle Harold) in LA when she died.

I think that's the story. But there is a book coming out in November by James Zeruk called Peg Entwistle and The Hollywood Sign Suicide ( He'll clear up lots of questions and I can't wait to read it!

Maria McKenzie said...

Here's some trivia for today, September 19, 2013: The Hollywood Sign turns 90 years old.